Maybe I belonged to the Society of Friends in a past life. I like to have some spaces in conversation.
At the same time, I want some back-and-forth. One of my brothers doesn’t really converse; he monologues. He’s happy to take turns: once he’s told his story, he’ll listen to someone else’s. But by the time he has finished, I’ve checked out and am just murmuring “Hum” and “Go to,” without feeling the slightest impulse to contribute.* I have a friend** from another walk of life who is prone to unloading for an hour or so, which I find exhausting, maybe because I don’t check out and feel a need to provide proper responses.
My idea of a proper conversation goes something like this: someone makes an observation about the weather or other neutral topic, such as “Nice to have some sun” or “Sure looks wet out there.” All present agree that the weather is weathering and contemplate the weather for a bit. Anyone not up for talking now closes eyes and falls asleep in the sun, or goes to take a nap, or declares a need to run errands and offers to bring back anything desired from wherever they’re going.
Anyone remaining has tacitly declared that they are up for conversation. Someone asks a question like “How’s it going with X?” or maybe “I was thinking about what you said [last time/ in e-mail/ to someone else] and I wondered [if you would elaborate / how that might apply to Other Thing / if you had thought about Approach].” The topic might be personal, with friends like Queen Joan or Lady Maud, or it might be a more general topic like kitchen renovation, books, or gardening.
The addressee is allowed time to think about an answer, to develop it a bit, but does not monologue. A few sentences, maybe, perhaps finishing with a question about the original questioner’s experience with contractors, or at book group, or with invasive species. Or maybe all present contemplate this answer and the sun / rain / snow / wind before someone relates the answer back to her house hunt and refusal even to contemplate a house with a kitchen that someone else had already renovated.
This model works best for long, lazy, in-person visits, as it were house parties with Queen Joan and Lady Maud. I’m willing to speed things up and allow for more wit and repartee at, say, a dinner party, where there are more people and probably less time. OTOH, when you have more people, there can be performers and audience; there is space for some people to sit out and contemplate the main conversation. I do think the performers need to shut up sometimes and let the quiet ones have a chance to get a word in edgewise.
I know families where the model is “everyone talks constantly at full volume about whatever is on their minds and no one listens to anything said by anyone else.” They make me homesick for my monologuing brother.
*I think this brother thinks I am naturally the quiet type and love to listen to him, or maybe that I am just boring and have no stories to relate. “No stories” is probably true. I don’t organize my life in anecdotes.
**At this point maybe I am more a friend to her than she to me, but (a) I think she does need someone to unload to, and (b) some time ago her willingness to listen to me unloading saved my sanity during a particularly awful family visit, so yes, a friend even if sometimes a tiring one.